Football clubs urged to help ‘stressed’ football fans chill out and avoid serious health risks, study shows

Martyn Herman
Brazil fans were the subject of the study by the University of Bath: Getty

Football clubs should help stressed out fans stay calm during crunch matches by using light-hearted social media videos and encouraging deep-breathing techniques, according to leading sports psychologists.

With games coming thick and fast in Europe’s big leagues, research published in the Oxford Study has shown that watching from the stands can result in dangerous levels of stress, raised blood pressure and increased risks of suffering a heart attack.

“Psychologists teach professional footballers strategies to deal with stress in order to minimise the potential negative impact that stressors have on them, these same strategies could also be offered to the fans,” according to British Psychological Society psychologist Desmond McEwan at the University of Bath.

While players can influence action on the pitch, the report said fans watching can feel helpless and ‘out of control’.

Part of the study focused on Brazil fans during their host country’s semi-final loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup. Saliva samples showed levels of the hormone cortisol soared during Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat.

Raised levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, can lead to feelings of impending doom or being under attack.

“Football fans notoriously have strong levels of self-identification and belonging to their teams, especially at national levels, there is clearly a need to address this cortisol question,” McEwan said.

One of the measures clubs could use to safeguard their fans, according to McEwan, is to release “emotion regulating, breathing and informative biofeedback techniques” in videos on their social media channels.

Fans should also take 30-60 second “zone outs” during games, including deep breathing techniques.

“Fans who are strongly fused with their team -- that is, have a strong sense of being ‘one’ with their team -- experience the greatest physiological stress response when watching a match,” said Martha Newson, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, at Oxford.